Thayer Consultancy

ABN # 65 648 097 123

Background Briefing: Vietnam High-Level Visits to the U.S., 1995-2009 Carlyle A. Thayer July 12, 2013

[client name deleted] How many high-level Vietnamese leaders have visited Washington since 1995? ANSWER: It all depends on what is meant by "high-level". High-Level Vietnamese visits to the U.S. since normalization in July 1995 include: Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam (1998) Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam (2000) Permanent Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (2001) Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan (2003) Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, official visit to the U.S. (June 2005) Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Gia Khiem (March 2007) President Nguyen Minh Triet official visit at the invitation of U.S. President G. W. Bush (18-23 June, 2007) Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung attends the Nuclear Security Summit Washington at the invitation of President Barack Obama, April 12-15, 2008. in

President George W. Bush welcomes Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to the United States for their fourth bilateral meeting in four years, official visit from June 23-26, 2008. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem made a two-day visit to the US at the invitation of US Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton from October 1-2, 2009.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam High-Level Visits to the U.S., 19952009,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 12, 2013. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key.

2 Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.

Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123

Background Briefing: Vietnam’s President Visits China and then the United States Carlyle A. Thayer July 20, 2013

[client name deleted] We are preparing a report analyzing President Truong Tan Sang's trip to China and Vietnam-China relations. Here is a draft abstract of the report:
Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang made his first official visit to Beijing on June 19-21, the first trip since China’s leadership change that could foreshadow how the Vietnam-China relations will play out in the next few years. To evaluate Mr. Sang’s trip, it is necessary to backtrack to 2011 when Vietnam completed filling its new cabinet and examine the domestic politics as well as the high-ranking trips abroad that followed. What has emerged in Vietnam’s diplomacy with China is an overall submissiveness to the northern country, evidenced in the unchanged rhetoric of maintaining good bilateral relationship, despite an unresolved territorial conflict and growing anti-Sino sentiment within Vietnam. This kind of “obedience” to China shows that (1) top-level officials do not want to strain this “comprehensive strategic partnership,” at least in the next years, and (2) will not hesitate to ally themselves with China, a country that Vietnam has centuries of hostile relations with, in order to uphold the communist party at all costs.

We request your assessment of the following issues: Q1. What do you think about the Philippines’ decision to sue China and to have a joint military drill with the U.S.? ANSWER: These are two separate issues. This year’s military exercises – CARAT [Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training] – were the nineteenth. They have been going on a long time and pre-date the US policy of rebalancing and the Philippines’ decision to lodge a claim with the UNCLOS Arbitral Tribunal. As a result of Chinese assertiveness towards the Philippines, the Aquino Administration has stepped up efforts at defence modernization and territorial defense. These efforts are encapsulated in the expression minimal deterrence. At the same time, the Philippines is reviving it alliance with the US. Combined exercises are designed to increase interoperability and to develop capabilities for maritime domain awareness and maritime security. The US is also seeking increased access to ports and airfields as a result of its rebalancing strategy. The Philippines’ decision to take its dispute with China to an Arbitral Tribunal is in accord with international law. China exercised its right not to participate but under

2 the rules governing the Arbitral Tribunal it can proceed without Ch ina’s participation. International law places the onus on those in a dispute to negotiate. The Philippines argues that it has been doing so since 1995 when China occupied Mischief Reef and there are no further possibilities for discussions. The die has been cast. China is now trying by hook or by crook to scuttle these proceedings and/or persuade the Philippines to withdraw its claim. Legal remedies are the weapon of the weak. Combined exercises are what allies do to deter would be aggressors. Q2. Do you think that President Truong Tan Sang’s visit to China ended on a submissive note? It has been suggested that because Mr. Sang did not "dare" to raise the sovereignty question with China in any official documents including the joint statement, he was in a way submitting Vietnam to not blowing up the issue under pressure from China. ANSWER: There are two key issues in this question. One concerns sovereignty and the other concerns the use of or threat of force. In 2011 China and Vietnam agreed on the Fundamental Principles to Guide a Settlement of Maritime Disputes. In essence working-level government-to-government negotiations are taking place, focused on the waters forming the “mouth” of the Gulf of Tonkin. Both sides have long realized it is best to proceed from the easy to the more difficult. The absence of any mention of sovereignty in the concluding joint statement may not be particularly significant. Both sides were at pains not to let territorial and sovereignty disputes disrupt their broader bilateral relations. Vietnam continually shows deference in public to China while at the same time resisting Chinese pressure over its national interests. Therefore, Vietnam continually seeks public reaffirmations that territorial disputes will not be settled by force or the threat of force. Q3. Some Hanoi-based observers saw this trip merely as a diplomatic one that is required since the latest political transitions in both Vietnam and China, while others believed that Mr. Sang used the trip to raise his position within the leadership to a more substantial position than the current ceremonial one. What is your assessment of these claims? ANSWER: In 1999 China and Vietnam signed a long-term cooperative framework agreement (China signed similar documents with all members of ASEAN during 19992000). This document set out high-level visits. These have waxed and waned according to the state of bilateral relations. Vietnam has always made more highlevel visits to Beijing than the reverse. Sang’s visit was more than for diplomatic show. It was designed to advance bilateral relations. Its rationale, following the change in Chinese leaders, is perfectly understandable. Truong Tan Sang has argued for several years that Vietnam’s presidency should combine the offices of party Secretary General and state president along the China model. This has been rejected each time it has been considered. There are rumours that when Sang decided to accept the state presidency following the last party congress he did so with the proviso that the office of president take on more powers than ceremonial. Sang’s visit to China reinforces the position of state president.

3 Q4. And lastly, prior to Mr. Sang’s trip, Vietnam arrested three bloggers. Do you think these arrests of anti-state/anti-China dissidents are part of the "preparation" for his trip? ANSWER: It has been consistent US policy since 2010 that bilateral relations with Vietnam cannot be advanced or, to use Secretary Hillary Clinton’s words, “taken to the next level” without an improvement in human rights. Vietnam’s human rights record has gotten worse each year after 2010. Part of the explanation for the crackdown on bloggers is internal party in-fighting. The bloggers raise sensitive issues, some of it based on insider knowledge. Political leaders who are affected thus push for a crackdown on their critics. Party in-fighting has created a climate where political leaders must appear tough towards pro-democracy activists and dissidents. A second explanation for the increased crackdown is that party officials opposed to closer relations with the US have tried to sabotage these efforts by conducting arrests of bloggers. This was the explanation given to me by a well-informed Vietnamese analyst of the arrests referred to. They were designed to undermine the first ever visit to Washington by Vietnam’s Chief of the General Staff, Sr. Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty. On the eve of the announcement that Sang would be visiting the US, Vietnam postponed the trial of high-profile dissident Le Quoc Quan. Quan has US connections.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam’s President Visits China and then the United States,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, July 20, 2013. All background briefs are posted on (search for Thayer). To remove yourself from the mailing list type UNSUBSCRIBE in the Subject heading and hit the Reply key. Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.